“Flight eight, six, seven, five has been moved from gate B1 to gate D5.”
Charley, only seven years old, was trying to figure out if the voice was a real person or just a computer voice. He thought about asking his father, but the businessman was on his phone, as usual, threatening one of his employees.
Suddenly, like most young boys at some point or another, Charley felt as if his bladder was so full it would burst.
“Daddy, I gotta pee.”
He tugged on his father’s coat tail, trying to get his attention. When that did not work, Charley sped up and stopped right in front of him.
“Hold on, Herb,” Mr. West said into his phone, stopping. “What, son?” he asked.
“I gotta pee,” Charley repeated.
“There’s a bathroom up on the right. Run ahead. I’ll watch you.”
Charley practically sprinted the hundred feet through the terminal to the bathroom door, almost knocking an elderly man over as he entered. Once inside, he found the restroom empty, and bolted into the nearest stall, struggling to get his pants down in time. He had a stubborn belt.
It was a close call, but he succeeded. A few seconds later, he pulled his pants back up, and started working on the belt again. It took him a couple of seconds, but he got it buckled back, and he unlatched the stall door. Then he noticed his shoe was untied, and bent down to fix it. While he was working on his shoe, Charley heard the door open, and looked up.
The man was dressed like his father. His tie was pink instead of blue, but to Charley a suit was a suit. This man was taller, had a beard, and he seemed nice. He was smiling, but Charley decided it was probably the glasses that made him look nice. Nice people wore glasses.
The nice man walked over to the mirror, leaving his back to Charley. He reached inside his jacket and pulled something out of an inner pocket. Charley was intrigued. The man looked at the object, then placed it on the side of the sink so he could wash his hands. At least that’s what it looked like. The man left the water running, and kept running his hands under it every couple of seconds.
He’s checking the temperature, Charley thought.
Then the man lifted his hands and splashed some water on his face. Charley noticed he was shaking as he did this. The man looked scared, and seemed to have forgotten he was not alone. He started talking to himself.
“You can do this,” he said into the mirror.
Then the man reached for the object he had set on the counter. He opened it, and Charley noticed it looked like something his mother used sometimes for her face. Then, sure enough, the man began to use the brush on his face. Charley was curious, but figured his father would be worried if he stayed in here too long, so he got up and walked out of the restroom. The man did not seem to notice.
Mr. West was still on the phone when Charley emerged from the restroom.
He didn’t even care, Charley thought as they began walking again.
A few minutes later, the phone call finally ended, and Charley spoke up.
“Yeah, son?” Mr. West replied, indifferently.
“I saw a man in the restroom putting on makeup like Mommy. I thought boys weren’t supposed to wear makeup.”
Charley’s father stopped and looked at him, giving him his full attention.
“Son,” he began, then sighed. “Some men are different than others. They like different things.”
“Yes. Like makeup. But that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with it. You understand?”
“I think so.”
They started walking again.
Charley did not really understand, but he pretended. His father always understood, and he did not want to disappoint him. Someday he was going to be just like his father. Only he would be nicer, and would not stay on his phone all the time.
Finally, they arrived at the gate where their plane was supposed to be waiting for them, but there was no plane, and no people were waiting.
Charley heard his father curse under his breath. He had tried to hide it, but Charley heard. Mr. West glanced around, and walked up to the desk for the gate. Charley followed. A woman about the same age as his father sat at the desk. She looked meaner than him though.
“I’m looking for flight 8675,” Mr. West stated.
“Gate D5,” the lady responded. “It was moved.”
Charley could see by the look on his father’s face that he was about to get angry.
“Gate D5,” the lady repeated. “The flight was…”
“I heard you the first time. Why wasn’t it announced?”
There was a bite in his tone that frightened Charley.
“Sir, we announced it, I assure you.”
“You did not. I would have heard it.”
“Daddy, you were on your phone.” Charley squeaked.
Mr. West did not hear, or ignored him. Whichever it was, he proceeded to go off on the poor woman, saying several things that Charley did not understand. He knew they must have been mean though, from her reaction.
“Sir,” the lady finally interrupted, fuming. “If you don’t leave now you won’t make your flight.”
She had made a good point. He turned around and stormed off.
“Charley, keep up.”
Charley followed ten feet behind his father, winding through groups of people and dodging the occasional runner’s suitcase, all while trying to keep up. He did not like it when his father was like this. It scared him.
After ten minutes of fast walking, they arrived at gate D5, just in time for final boarding. They walked straight up to the gate. Mr. West produced their boarding passes, and then they boarded the plane.
“All right, son. You’re in seat 22A. I’ll be right behind you, okay?”
Charley did not really want to sit by his father right now anyway. He was still a bit frightened. He sat down in 22A, and watched the people walk up the aisle.
“Dad!” he practically exclaimed. “There he is!”
“Don’t point, son. Who are you talking about?”
“The makeup guy. That’s him.”
“He looks really different, but it’s him.”
Charley had first noticed the suit and the pink tie. Other than that, the man looked completely different. The glasses were gone and he had shaved his beard and head. If he would have changed clothes, Charley would not have recognized him.
As he moved closer, Charley was more and more certain it was the man. It didn’t look like he was wearing makeup, though he did look about ten years older up close. Finally, he reached row twenty-two, and sat down right next to Charley. Charley just stared at him. The man either did not notice, or ignored him. He certainly did not seem to recognize him from earlier.
Charley soon noticed that the man appeared to be scared, or nervous. He was still shaking.
A young flight attendant walked up and stopped. She spoke to Charley.
“How are ya, little man?” she asked him.
Charley could not think of anything to say, so he stayed quiet.
“You’re son is shy, isn’t he?” she said, turning to the man beside Charley.
The man just stared at the seat in front of him.
“Actually, he’s my son,” Mr. West piped up from behind Charley. “I’m bringing him with me on my business trip. Couldn’t find anyone to watch him.”
“Well, I hope you guys have a good flight!” she said enthusiastically before walking off.
Charley turned to his father and opened his mouth to whisper something, but his father just shook his head. Charley turned back around, bored. He grabbed the little book that showed some of the different types of airplanes and flipped through it until he heard the friendly flight attendant’s voice.
“Good afternoon, I’m Jenny, and welcome aboard flight 8675…”
“…309!” someone added quickly.
Jenny ignored the interruption, kept smiling, and continued on with her speech about safety and other things Charley cared little for. He traded out the airplane book for Sky Mall and started looking at all the cool things as the plane started moving.
“Look, dad!” he exclaimed a few minutes later, holding the catalogue up and turning around.
But his father was already asleep. Or pretending to be asleep. It had not been long enough for him to actually fall asleep, Charley mused.
“Make sure your tray table and seat are in the upright and locked position. We are ready for take-off,” said the pilot over the intercom system.
Charley placed his Sky Mall back in the pouch on the back of the seat, and prepared for take-off. He had never flown before, and did not know what to expect.
The plane started moving. It slowly sped up, getting faster and faster. Charley felt it lean back, and he raised his hands. Then a though crossed his mind.
What if it doesn’t get all the way up?
Charley felt the back wheels leave the ground, and felt himself being pushed back into his seat a little bit. He was flying!
He put his hands down and looked out the window as the ground fell further and further away. This was the coolest thing he had ever done, he decided.
Slowly, the plane started to level out, and he decided to grab the Sky Mall again. He had only made it halfway through earlier, and wanted to finish. The man to his left was still staring at the seat in front of him. Charley thought he looked even more scared now, but he could not tell for sure, so he went back to his magazine.
“I can’t do this,” the man muttered.
“Can’t do what?” Charley asked before he could stop himself.
The man stared at him, surprised.
“You wouldn’t understand,” he told Charley.
“I know you wear make-up.”
Once again the man stared at Charley, shocked. Then a look of realization came across his face.
“The kid from the bathroom,” he whispered, more to himself than Charley.
“It’s okay,” Charley assured him. “My dad says some men are just into different things, but there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The man just shook his head, offering a slight smile.
“You really don’t understand.”
“Well then help me,” Charley said.
The man looked at Charley for the third time with a look of fascination.
“I suppose it can’t hurt to try,” he responded. “But where do I begin.”
Charley saw that the man was thinking, so he just waited.
“Well, you see, kid… There are bad people in this world. And sometimes they do things to people that aren’t okay.”
“Like killing?” Charley asked.
“Yes,” the man said hesitantly. “Like killing.”
He paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully.
“Somebody hurt my family,” he said, tearing up. “And he got caught. But he was a powerful man, and a lot of people do what he says. But I have to tell the judge what he did, you see. And now… Now I have to go hide somewhere so that I’ll be safe until it’s time to talk to him.”
Charley nodded. He did not fully understand, but he felt it was the right thing to do.
“I hope they don’t find you,” he offered.
“Thanks, kid,” replied the man. “I hope they don’t either.”
He lingered a moment, then turned back to stare at the seat in front of him again.
“Sir,” Charley said.
The man turned to look at him, eyes still a little teary.
“You can do this. I know you can.”
“Thanks, kid,” the man said. “I needed that.”
Then he stared at the seat again, and did not turn toward Charley again for the rest of the flight. Charley kept thinking about what the man had said, trying to figure it out, but came up with nothing.
When it was time to get off the plane, the man got up, took three steps, turned around, and opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He started to walk off again, but turned around once again.
“Thanks,” he said, and he walked off and did not look back again.
“What was that about?” Charley’s father asked.
“I’m not sure,” Charley said, smiling. “But I helped him.”